Vanderbilt hosts eighth annual Undergraduate Research Fair on Sept. 30

One hundred and eighty-five students presented research performed during their time at Vanderbilt to fellow students, faculty and staff both in-person and virtually at the Fall 2021 Undergraduate Research Fair.

students and professors mingle at in the ballroom

Brina Ratangee

Vanderbilt students present projects at Undergraduate Research Fair in the Student Life Center ballroom on Sept. 30, 2021. (Hustler Staff/Brina Ratangee)

Brina Ratangee, Staff Writer

One hundred and eighty-five students presented research conducted during their time at Vanderbilt at the eighth annual fall Undergraduate Research Fair, sponsored by the Office of Immersion Resources (OIR), on Sept. 30.

To present research, students submitted an application indicating the topic and format of their presentation. 

After working under the mentorship of Dr. Sandeep Rajan at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) this past summer, first-year Saksham Saksena said he was eager to present his self-directed research project at the fair.

“It is an amazing experience to present to my peers and faculty here at Vanderbilt,” Saksena said. “[The fair] is really preparing us for presentations at future conferences and helping us to solidify our ideas. This is something that not many students get to do, so it is pretty nice that Vanderbilt organized this for us.”

OIR Director Carolyn Floyd reported that this event was the first major event hosted by the OIR since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and required several modifications to be able to come to fruition. 

“Normally we would have 600 people in a ballroom, with everyone presenting and walking around at once,” Floyd said. “Instead, we de-densified the event by having half the students present in the first hour and the other half present in the second hour, as well as by offering a virtual option for students unable or unwilling to attend in-person.”

Examples of the wide-ranging projects on display included sophomore Kush Chaudari’s “Liver-Targeted Estrogen to Treat Obesity-Associated Cardiovascular Disease,” senior Sunil Shenoy’s “Cross Cultural Comparisons of Mental Health and Loneliness in English and Spanish Speakers” and senior Clara McMillan’s “The Role of Fashion in Southern Literature: The Dynamics of Power and Petticoats.”

In between the virtual and in-person student presentation blocks were other events organized by the OIR, including opening remarks by Research Professor of political science and law Samar Ali, an information session about Vanderbilt STEM and campus resources as well as a presentation titled “Getting Social with Science: Learning from The Humanities.”

Junior Trevor Pillow, whose participation in the 2021 Vanderbilt Undergraduate Summer Research Program (VUSRP) required him to present at the fair, emphasized the importance of having the opportunity to present in person. 

“I love doing things in person because it’s easier to talk, and I can gesture with my hands,” Pillow said. “With COVID-19 precautions, you miss out on all of that.”

Senior and MARC Scholar Bethanie Stauffer, who first became involved in research during the summer of 2020, echoed Pillow’s sentiments. 

“I’ve only presented in virtual formats because of COVID, and it’s not as personal,” Stauffer said. “It’s been really cool not only to see other students in general but also to see other students perform research in very different disciplines.”

In the same way, senior Gunner Udomwongsa praised the fair for its real-life applicability.

“This [fair] is one of our only opportunities to open up to the university, which is really good practice for the real world if you’re going into research…and a great way to grasp what other students are doing outside of your lab,” Udomwongsa said.

OIR Program Coordinator Edgar Perez reported that faculty in attendance at the fair had the option of completing evaluation forms for the student presenters as a way to provide constructive feedback. 

Floyd highlighted the growing popularity of the event, particularly due to the introduction of the Immersion graduation requirement, and shared that there will be another undergraduate research fair in the spring. 

“This is my favorite day of the year and has been since I started in the Office of Immersion Resources in 2018,” Floyd said. “The students are so energized and excited because they get to show the fruits of everything they’ve worked on for so long, and it’s wonderful.”